Category: London

Kitchen Birdwatcher: The Magpies’ Nest

The Kitchen Birdwatcher’s essential kit

I live in west London, right under the Heathrow flightpath, and my flat backs on to a fairly busy railway line that sometimes sees traffic at all hours of the day and night. Noisy, yes, but still a great place to live because (and this may surprise some people) of all the wildlife in the area. There is a perhaps surprising amount of green space nearby, creating perfect habitats for numerous creatures – you’ll find a small park and various allotments (some in use, some derelict) within a block or so of my flat, and the railway line itself is flanked by trees and other greenery.

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Meet the Mini Snowman!

I ventured out into the snowy wilds of west London this afternoon. It was icy cold and the biting wind made it feel even colder, but as I left my building I was amused to spot this adorable little fella guarding the front door. I suspect he was built by my lovely next-door-neighbours, who have an energetic toddler – he’s just the perfect size for a little one to have made!

Keep warm and safe out there, dear readers. And if you build a snowman, send me a snap! In weather like this, it’s important to keep an eye on your friends, neighbours and family too, especially anyone who is elderly, vulnerable, or in poor health. Sometimes even something as simple as an extra pair of fluffy socks or a hot flask of tea can make all the difference…

Christmas in London: Snow Joke!

Dealing with inclement weather at this time of the year is nothing new. We’ve had some snow in London already this December, but it’s unlikely to be a white Christmas here this year. The early 19th century was a chilly time, though, as illustrated by this witty 1821 etching by Richard Dighton from the Wellcome Library collection. This unfortunate chap has just had his fashionable top hat knocked into his eyes by falling snow being shovelled above – just as he passes a shop selling ice skates (I love the shop’s name: ‘Careless Skate Maker’. Not sure I’d want to be shopping there if I was wanting to get out on the ice!). This was obviously a common annoyance in a wintery 19th century London, and it didn’t matter if you were an elegantly dressed gentleman like this one – the snow would still get you!

It’s almost Christmas Eve. Wherever you are, and whether you have snow or not, keep safe and warm out there…

For links to more festive reading, click here!

Christmas in London: Lighting the Darkness on Oxford Street

It’s the day before Christmas Eve and I hope you’ve done all your shopping. Since it’s a Saturday too, high streets and shopping centres up and down the country will be buzzing with last-minute shoppers all day. Personally, that’s one of my more anxiety-inducing ideas of hell, and makes me glad I’ve done all my Christmas shopping, and all I have to do now is to stay in the warm and wrap the presents up (which, in its way, is a circle of hell in its own right – can someone PLEASE find the end of the Sellotape for me!?). I’m looking forward to Christmas Day when I can put my feet up and not have to think about anything!

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Christmas in London: A 17th Century Update

Way back in 2010, I wrote a Christmas post examining how the festive season was celebrated in the 17th century. This was a period of great upheaval in British culture and society, especially in the aftermath of the Civil Wars and the execution of King Charles I. A Puritan government under Oliver Cromwell had taken over from the monarchy and implemented a new set of policies that weren’t always popular with the ordinary people.

Most notoriously, they banned the celebration of Christmas – as I wrote in the previous post, this really annoyed the people of London (and elsewhere), who simply carried on as usual when it came to enjoying the festivities, and even rioted when they could not! In return, London’s refusal to abide by the law thoroughly irritated the government, as this intriguing report from around 1650 (attributed to Cromwell himself) shows.

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Rugby on Ice (1950)

As with many things in life, I came across this somewhat bizarre little newsreel clip while I was looking for something else entirely (I was actually searching YouTube for videos of football being played in extreme weather – you can find my playlist of that here). When I saw this  frankly odd snippet of film, I couldn’t resist posting it here for your enjoyment too!

Since we are in the midst of the Rugby Union Autumn Internationals and the Rugby League World Cup (England have reached the final!), it seemed like the perfect time to share this quirky look at what has to be one of the most unpleasantly cold and uncomfortably violent crossover sports imaginable (and I’ve played actual rugby. In the actual mud).

Filmed at the Streatham Ice Rink in south London (I honestly can’t see this type of game being played on the beautiful green reaches of the Twickenham pitch!), and, according to the narrator “a mixture of rugby and American footer”, this 8-a-side match between the Senators and the Royals  doesn’t actually seem to have much in the way of tactics going on – unless you count falling over in a heap and shoving the opposition off the ice at 25mph as tactical play!

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Lost Property: The Sequel

Shark shown for illustrative purposes only. Posed by a model.

I’ve long been fascinated by the forgetfulness of human beings. There seems to be a limit to the capacity of the human brain for retaining information before some of it starts falling out of your ears. Your memory card is full, please delete some files to free up space, as it were. But it’s not just forgetting important dates like your mum’s birthday or your wedding anniversary though. As the Wombles put it so succinctly, it’s “the things that the everyday folk leave behind” that offer us an intriguing glimpse into the ways our memories work – or don’t, as the case may be.

Our brains are fallible. Quite ridiculously so at times. Losing your house keys, forgetting your phone, misplacing your glasses, the disappearance of the remote control – these are all everyday things that happen to us all at some point in our lives (although I’d bet you’ve never managed to lock yourself in your flat due to sheer stupidity. I have. The locksmith was highly amused, and I went round singing Vic and Bob’s ‘Trapped In My Flat’ for the rest of the day).

But some people forget the oddest things. Over the years I’ve posted quite a lot on the subject of the weirder side of lost property – bizarre items left on various forms of public transport or in hotel rooms by forgetful customers – and it never ceases to surprise and amaze me what kind of things people actually leave behind in public places.

Everything from wedding dresses, live tortoises, a bag of haggis. a casket of human ashes, and an inflatable dinosaur (yay!), to a gas mask, a framed photo of Mary Berry, a pair of breast implants, a stuffed puffer fish, and a hamster have been turned into various lost property offices in recent years. It really makes me wonder how such oblivious souls got some of these things on the train/bus/tube/into a hotel room in the first place, let alone forgot them!

Indeed, I still worry sometimes about the life-size Dalek someone once left abandoned in a hotel room after checking out – is the poor thing alright? Did anyone ever come back to claim it? Where did it go? Were there stairs involved? And how the hell do you forget a life-size Dalek in the first place? Such weird items of lost property leave me with so many questions (which is probably why I keep returning to the subject!).

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The Beautiful Game on Film: ‘Football Again’ (1924)

Today is the opening day of the football European Championships in France and I’m quite excited. Indeed, I’ve got my fixtures wallchart ready and am planning my match predictions as we speak. One reason I’m quite excited by all this is that my team, the mighty Spurs, have sent a whole eleven (count ’em!) players to Euro ’16 – including five who are in the England squad – which, after the highly dramatic season we just had, is absolutely as it should be!

While I was looking for something football-related to mark the occasion, I came across this fantastic silent newsreel footage of the 1924 Spurs team in training and I just had to post it here (for obvious reasons…). Even from this brief clip, it’s fascinating to see how much is familiar to the 21st century football fan, as well as how much the game has changed since the 1920s – just look at those shorts and that heavy ball in comparison to the hi-tech kit worn and used by modern players, for a start. I honestly can’t see the likes of Wayne Rooney in get up like that…

Watch out for more vintage football-related posts coming soon.

For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel.

Blue skies…

Blue skies....

Walking home from a hospital appointment yesterday, I was struck by these trees in a local neighbourhood park. Almost leaning into the wintery blue skies as if reaching for the hazy sunlight, it’s just possible to see a hint of new growth on their bare branches.

Maybe spring is on its way in London…